What if the missing Malaysia plane is never found?

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FILE – In this undated file photo, Amelia Earhart stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. American aviator Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 is among aviation’s most enduring mysteries. Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, vanished over the Pacific with Fred Noonan during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Seven decades later, people are still transfixed with the mystery. Theories range from her simply running out of fuel and crashing to her staging her own disappearance and secretly returning to the U.S. to live under another identity. (AP Photo/File)

FILE – In this undated file photo, Amelia Earhart stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. American aviator Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 is among aviation’s most enduring mysteries. Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, vanished over the Pacific with Fred Noonan during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Seven decades later, people are still transfixed with the mystery. Theories range from her simply running out of fuel and crashing to her staging her own disappearance and secretly returning to the U.S. to live under another identity. (AP Photo/File)

FILE – In this May 1937 file photo, American aviaor Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, pose in front of their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in Los Angeles prior to their flight around the world. Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 is among aviation’s most enduring mysteries. Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, vanished over the Pacific with Noonan during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Seven decades later, people are still transfixed with the mystery. Theories range from her simply running out of fuel and crashing to her staging her own disappearance and secretly returning to the U.S. to live under another identity. (AP Photo/File)

A relative of passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 gets a massage from a friend at a hotel in Beijing Saturday, March 15, 2014. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that investigators believe the missing Malaysian airliner’s communications were deliberately disabled, that it turned back from its flight to Beijing and flew for more than seven hours. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A Chinese relative of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, center, cries as she is escorted by a woman while leaving a hotel room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing airplane, in Beijing, China Sunday, March 9, 2014. Planes and ships from across Asia resumed the hunt Sunday for the Malaysian jetliner missing with 239 people on board for more than 24 hours, while Malaysian aviation authorities investigated how two passengers were apparently able to get on the aircraft using stolen passports. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Children read messages and well wishes displayed for all involved with the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 on the walls of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The plane must be somewhere. But the same can be said for Amelia Earhart’s.

Ten days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people aboard, an exhaustive international search has produced no sign of the Boeing 777, raising an unsettling question: What if the airplane is never found?

Such an outcome, while considered unlikely by many experts, would certainly torment the families of those missing. It would also flummox the airline industry, which will struggle to learn lessons from the incident if it doesn’t know what happened.

While rare nowadays, history is not short of such mysteries — from the most famous of all, American aviator Earhart, to planes and ships disappearing in the so-called Bermuda Triangle.

“When something like this happens that confounds us, we’re offended by it, and we’re scared by it,” said Ric Gillespie, a former U.S. aviation accident investigator who wrote a book about Earhart’s still-unsolved 1937 disappearance over the Pacific Ocean. “We had the illusion of control and it’s just been shown to us that oh, folks, you know what? A really big airliner can just vanish. And nobody wants to hear that.”

Part of the problem, said Andrew Thomas, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Transportation Security, is that airline systems are not as sophisticated as many people might think. A case in point, he said, is that airports and airplanes around the world use antiquated radar tracking technology, first developed in the 1950s, rather than modern GPS systems.

A GPS system might not have solved the mystery of Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. But it would probably have given searchers a better read on the plane’s last known location, Thomas said.

“There are lots of reasons why they haven’t changed, but the major one is cost,” he said. “The next-generation technology would cost $70 to $80 billion in the U.S.”

Experts say the plane’s disappearance will likely put pressure on airlines and governments to improve the way they monitor planes, including handoff procedures between countries. Flight 370 vanished after it signed off with Malaysian air-traffic controllers, and never made contact with their Vietnamese counterparts as it should have.

And if the plane is never found, liability issues

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